Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Collector

I sold my Smashing Pumpkins. You heard me right. This early-90’s, grunge-loving, 32-year-old music fan sold his Smashing Pumpkins, and I don’t even know for how much. I probably didn't get $2 for it.

This is no small change in direction for me. In the past, I've had a CD collection that fluctuated in number between 200 and 300. It might have been larger, but with the kind of college friends and acquaintances I had, the collection tended to shrink against my will. 

The difference now is that I want that collection to shrink. I want to sell, dump and give away. If I can't remember the last time I listened to an album, I don't want it around, and that is why 75 of my previously-precious CDs were recently converted to $90 in my pocket. 

As a collector, this is sacrilege. The collector always wants more. The collector finds comfort in thinking any item in the collection is accessible years or decades later, whether it will be or not. The collector finds peace in owning and having, storing and organizing. The collector becomes a connoisseur while the collection grows. 

And this isn't (completely) about showing off. Collectors loves to impress at parties, but those who are serious get off on admiring their collections in private. I was like that. I loved the fact that I had more CDs than my friends. I was more in the know. I had better taste in music. I liked to think I could listen to Smashing Pumpkins 20 years from the day I bought it, and that was appealing to me. 

Now, I couldn't care less. Time spent with others is now rarely time spent talking about music. Rolling Stone is no longer delivered to my house, and I rarely listen to the radio for music (even The Current gets only about 5 minutes of my time a day). It’s not a status thing for me anymore – it isn't socially important to like one band or another, or to like music my friends like. I’m only interested in listening as an enjoyable experience. That’s it. I’m totally in a vacuum, totally immune from outside influence. There is no “too popular,” or “overplayed.” If a song gets overplayed, it’s because I've kept it in the CD player too long. If I like the music, for whatever reason, that’s all that matters. 

I trace my new behavior back to the days when my Dad began building his monstrous VHS collection, which began the day he first visited Sam’s Club. He had never been a collector as far as I knew, unlike me, but there was something about those cheap movies on cassette that he could never pass up. 

My Dad must have over 500 movies now. 500! As a young movie buff, I loved it. But I remember when we were looking for something to watch on shelf after shelf of tapes, we spent a lot of time staring, trying to get excited about something we’d already seen. Even with all those movies, there really was NOTHING TO WATCH. 

I tried to think about how big the collection would have to be for us not to feel like that – was it 1000? – 2000? Eventually I realized it wouldn't matter. It would never be enough. Bruce Springsteen sang about “57 channels and nothing on.” He was right. It’s never enough. 

So maybe I realized it early on with movies, and it just hit me with music. It’s not the destination of having that perfect collection, it’s the journey of discovering music. No more looking back for me, only forward. I’ll listen to new things, develop my taste, and move on. I want to feel the rush of loving a new song more than I want to reminisce with something familiar. 

Maybe I’m just getting older, shifting into a new stage, and this is just an indicator of a new outlook. Maybe I’m having an early mid-life crisis. Maybe it’s about a lack of time, or lack of shelf-space. Maybe it’s about trying to break free from the material world. Maybe I just needed change for parking on a particular day. 

Whatever it is, I’m starting to get comfortable with the new philosophy. I’m now keeping an “active collection” of 75 CDs at any given time. When a new one comes in, the least desirable album gets the boot. Faced with tough choices, I will nonetheless travel light and gather no moss. I’m not going to refer to myself as a collector anymore. Now, I’m a recycler.

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